Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Reading Life

This week I'll be talking to my students about the important place that reading has in my life. Looking through my iPhone pictures, I've discovered all this fascinating pictures that capture exactly what I wanted: how important it is for me to make time for reading in my life. 
Here are the things I'll be sharing with my students:

1. I LOVE LOVE going to the Library. I probably go to the Library about 4 to 5 times a week. I know the staff at the New Albany Library by their first name. We love to talk about the books we read, and they love telling me, "Stella, your books are here."
2. Coming home with a high pile of books from the library makes me happy. I like taking pictures of those books. It gives me a sense of purpose and pride. 
3. I read chapter books but I also adore picture books. They're fascinating to me. A well written story always steal my heart. 
4. I have a Starbucks close to my apartment and you will find me there on chilly afternoons for sure. I'll be the one with the magazines in hand, a tall coffee and some butter cookies. 
5. I love staying in touch with what's going on with the city that I live in. 614 Magazine is a must read for me. Every month, I go to a local coffee shop and pick up my copy.
6. I pay attention to "The books of the month" section that even fashion magazines have!
7. I make a point to go and listen to as many authors as I can. I learn so much about them, about their thinking and their process as readers and writers. 
8. My friends know reading is important to me. I get a lot of books as gifts like the Oprah book on Happiness! Thank you MZ. 
9. I love reading in PJs and on my blue couch. My favorite corner. 
10. I listen to a lot of books on CD. As an English Language Learner myself, Audio Books help me with my pronunciation and intonation. 
11. I love watching how bookstores display their books. I love noticing the set ups, display and decisions behind their book displays. 
12. I love reading Restaurants reviews!!

I'm sure there are so many other things I can share with my students as I share with them about my personal reading life. But the point is for this conversation to be ONGOING. Reading changed my life. It made me a better person. Why would I want to keep this joy just for myself? Let's the reading journey begin! Here's to a new school year...let there be many other passionate readers who get to spread the word with me!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ode to Summer 2012

                          Ode to Summer 2012
                                           by Stella Villalba

This was the summer that I learned to live with patience,
with the unknown, with different roads in front of me,
some of them equating choices, and others alternate routes.
Learned to walk hand in hand with what I could only control.

This was the summer where two friends packed their bags,
overpacked snacks and hit the road to Indiana for a two-day
conference with some of the most inspired educators I know.
Came back with more knowledge and words than I originally packed.

This was the summer a group of friends strengthen their friendships
and left their laughs in the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, TN.
Nature by our sides, breathtaking views, moments of silence.
Five friends, five countries, five cultures, ONE friendship.

This was the summer I spent a week in Findlay, OH
 at the most relaxed and fun conference I've ever attended.
Authors came from everywhere to gather at the Mazza Museum.
Their writing lives were poured out in those walls and excited
learners, teachers and writers listened to them in awe.

This was the summer a group of writers got together at Hocking Hills
for what would have become the highlight of my summer. Under the care
and guidance of two incredible editors, these writers bloomed, they cared,
they listened and guided each other on paths of possibilities.

We left our voices and words in those hills...
We left our fears and packed our courageous writing lives
and brought it back to Columbus to keep the work that we started there.
Only the beginning....the late night talks on the porch were only a start.

This was the summer I found myself having
late night chats in many patios around Columbus.
Those nights where you're not in a rush because you know that
these moments don't come in too often and you want to hold on
just a little bit longer...

This was the summer I sang as loud as I could in all
the concerts I went. Those nights were you know your voice is just one
among the many voices that think you can sing.
Who cares? It's just you and the singer anyways.

This was the summer I witnessed friends getting married
each one so unique, so close to the heart.
You watch your friends move away from a life they used to know
to a life full of new I do's.

This was the summer a group of friends decided to say farewell
to Summer 2012 by squeezing in one more road trip to Chicago.
The bonding hours in a car, laughing and singing, wishing and thinking.
One more appropriate goodbye... till next year summer adventures.

This was the summer that I learned to live with patience,
with the unknown, with different roads in front of me,
some of them equating choices, and others alternate routes.
Learned to walk hand in hand with what I could only control.

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event! I look at the name of this event over and over and I think, "What is there not to LOVE about this?" I'm so excited to join my friends Cathy at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community  and Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning in their Third Annual Picture Book event. I'm sorry for my long to-do list for had to wait. This event is way cooler, and much more fun than any item on my list anyways!

This summer I decided to read a lot of biographies. Even though I love biographies, I really need to make a bigger, more intentional  effort to bring more biographies into my classroom, my life, and my students' lives. It was my challenge for this summer, and a challenge I expect myself to carry it through for this academic year. Since I work with ELLs, when reading biographies, I consider things like language, pictures, layout and organization in a book.

 Here are TEN Picture Book biographies that I discovered and loved. Some of them were discovered this Summer of 2012 and others were discovered earlier this year.

Just Being Audrey 
I believe that if Audrey would have seen this picture book, she would have totally approve it. This picture book has the elegance and unique style that Audrey would've appreciated. Authors Margaret Cardillo and artist Julia Denos pay tributte to an icon known for her delicate style in this book entitled Just Being Audrey. However, this book highlights her life offscreen starting from childhood, and her work with UNICEF helping children around the world. The elegant illustrations compliment this book so beautifully. Written for children ages 4-8.

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
Bill the Boy Wonder  The Secret Co Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Illustrated by Ty Templeton is an AMAZING book. I was totally suprised by the work done by the writer. Told  in a graphic novel format, this book narrates a fascinating story about a man behind the world known legend comic heroe. Bill Finger was THE person behind the creation of BATMAN but someone else was taking all the credits. Bill, a humbled man who was just grateful to get a good job, didn't claim or fought for something that clearly belonged to him. Like a true heroe, he was just excited to be part of a world legend. I can't tell you the rest of the story but I can assure you it's a fascinating one. Written for children ages 8-12. 

Me, Frida As many of you already know, I'm a big fan of the Mexican Painter, Frida Khalo. So you could imagine my excitement when this summer I've discovered Me, Frida by Amy Novesky and  Illustrated by David Diaz. This book is a Pura Belpre Honor Book and this particular picture book focuses on one moment in Frida's life. When she arrived in San Francisco with her husband Diego Rivera, Frida has a real hard time leaving her home in Mexico. This book narrates Frida's discovery in San Francisco. Told through the colorful illustration of David Diaz, this book matches Frida's life as a painter beautifully. It's full of vibrant colors just like her artistic work. Written for children ages 4-8.

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child Oh the delicious life of Julia Child! Bon Appetit, The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland is a also another colorful celebration of the famous Chef Julia Child. Told through pictures of all sizes, using panels and cartoon storytelling style, this picture book will keep your readers busy, entertained and fascinated with all the beautifully illustrated pictures, speech bubbles and details. A pure FUN book to read for sure. The subtle colors used in the illustrations help not to become overwhelmed.  Written for children of all ages. I particularly recommend children ages 9 and up.

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! Just Behave, Pablo Picasso by Jonah Winter tells a fascinating side of the vibrant life of world-known painter Pablo Picasso. He was loved and admired all around the world. His paintings made people stared in awe and always asked for more. But what happened when Pablo painted something the world did not accept? Did he change his work? Did he only want to please people? Did he find a way to remain himself in a world that keeps demaning more from him? Read and find out. Written for children ages 4-8.

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased

Following a similar style to the book Just Behave, Pablo Picasso, this particular picture book  celebrates another painted: Georgia O'Keefe.  Georgia Hawaii is written by Amy Novesky. This book also concentrates on one particular moment in Georgia's life. The Hawaiian Pineapple company invited Georgia to Hawaii to make paintings of pineapples. However, did she paint what they wanted? Did she paint what inspired her? Yuyi Morales' illustrations will take your breath away. Absolutely gorgeous. Written for children ages 6-9.

Looking at Lincoln

I've been following the work of Maira Kalman for a long time. I admire her artistic style. Imagine my surprise when she decided to make a picture book for children, Looking at Lincoln.  When I discovered this book earlier this year, I read it to my Third Grade ELLs and let me just created a sequence of events that would lead us into a deep study of Abraham Lincoln. All because of this picture book. Told in a style only known as Maira Kalman, the life of Abraham Lincoln come to life and make you thirsty for more learning, more details, more life!

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

Oh Pablo Neruda. The world needs to know about your work! I'm so pleased to see that there is a picture book about his life so children around the world can learn about him, his love for words, his mark in the world. Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People by Monica Brown tells the story about this poet who at age 16 started publishing his poems about the things he loved, the joy he found, about Chile and his struggles. All through the power of words. Written for children ages 6-9.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, SlaveDave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. The title of this book was enough to capture my attention the first time I saw it, wouldn't you say so? Written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Brian Collier, this book is dedicated to artist and picture book lovers  everywhere because "this story is really about the power of the human spirit, artistry and truth, and that can not be silenced by bondage of any kind." Isn't this dedication just a beautiful portrait of words? Well, the rest of the book is no disappointment. Told in a poetic way, this story shares the life and work of an enslaved potter in the 1800s in South Carolina. The details of his work, the dedication, love and appreciation despite his life as a slave is an inpirational story for sure. Written for children 5-8.

Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World's Greatest Escape Artist

Harry Houdini, The Legend of the World Greatest Escape Artist by Janice Weaver and illustrated by Chris Lane. The mood in this picture book definitely matches the mysterious, at-risk life of Harry Houdini. The book contains some photographs but also some amazing, sepia style illustrations that gives this book the perfect mood. From his birth to his death, this biography includes all the most important events in his life. You'll feel like you are reading a fascinating scrapbook of his life. Written for children ages 8- 11.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Love, Amalia

Love, Amalia Love, Amalia by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta. This story is about loss, hope, finding meaning and purpose, traditions, family values and traditions. It's about sharing and holding on to the things that matter. The story starts with Amalia's best friend Martha moving away. Amalia feels sad, angry, overwhelmed and lost. The girls have been friends since preschool. She doesn't know what life at school is without Martha. Amalia, not knowing how to deal with this change, tells her grandma, her abuelita all about it. In abuelita's kitchen is where Amalia finds herself, confesses and realizes what to do next. Abuelita fills her kitchen with amazing meals, and shares with Amalia her love for cooking and baking. Amalia's afternoons are filled with abuelita's wisdom, coconut flan, family's stories, cards, writing and secrets.
But one day the unexpected happens and Abuelita is gone leaving a big hole in Amalia's heart. How is Amalia going to cope with these last changes? Who is she going to talk to? How is she going to keep her abuelita's memory ALIVE? Questions are all there are in Amalia's head and heart. Amidst her sorrows, she finds the cards, in love writing.
A wonderful story filled with love, recipes, and love cards, and loud family members....a wonderful portrait of a Latino family who comes together to find meaning in life in the most unexpected moments.

I appreciate the sense of purpose that these love letters give Amalia highlighting the importance of keeping words alive, saying what you feel, and leaving your mark for words. A celebration of writing is part of this sweet chapter book geared for children ages 8-12. And may I just say how excited I was to see that this book is avaliable in Spanish as well? Oh viva el Español! As we are ready to embark another school year, I always try to remember what Lucy Calkins said at one of her Reading and Writing Institute, "All children in our classroom should see themselves in your read alouds in the first month of school." I think I found a great one to share this year!

Con cariño, Amalia (Love, Amalia)

Alma Flor Ada the 2012 recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award and author of numerous books including a special beloved one: My Name is Maria Isabel.  I'm looking forward to bringing Alma Flor Ada to my writing workshop time this year, and standing on her shoulder to reach young writers and readers.

Happy Reading and Enjoy the Journey!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poetry that Steals that My ♥

My friends know that I have a weak heart for Poetry. My knees soften when I hear words embedded in one another.  I love reading Poetry, I love listening to it. I love Poetry for children and Poetry for Adults. I love Poetry in Spanish and most definitely Poetry in English. So when I went to the library to pick up my "Reserves" and I see a beautiful line of poetry books with my name on it, I know I'm in for a treat. 

Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book of PoetryI'll start with Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. So imagine having these friends over one evening: Myra Cohn Livingston, Nikki Grimes,  Rosemary Wells, Jack Prelutsky, Paul B. Janeczko, etc. And they all decided to spend the evening with you. If you are a poetry lover, you know what this means. It means hours and hours of pure magic and entertainment. It means reading about August Ice Cream Cone, about Brothers and Sisters, and chicks, and birthday cakes too. 
Product DetailsOn top of having some of the best poetry for children out there, Illustrator Polly Dunbar just tops it off with the illustrations giving it that perfect touch of a "first poetry book". If you start reading poetry aloud to your children and students with a collection like this, you're set. A new poetry lover will be born. Guaranteed. 

The next book in the pile is Take Two! A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen. Now, one good look at the cover and you know you are set with great language, sounds of words, rhythm and play for the next hour. I'm a big fan of both authors so when I know I'll get to enjoy their creativity all in ONE book, it's imperative that my hands get on this book right away. 
What makes this book EXTRA fun is the collection of facts on twins spread all throughout the book. For example, did you know that there are about 125 million living multiples in the world? or that since 1970s, the number of twin births has more than doubled? Fascinating. 
Product DetailsForgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. First of all the table of contents is pure fun. The design is fantastic, playing with fonts and style. All the titles are the same: This is just to say. But each title is presented with different fonts. One of my favorite poems is told from Little Red Riding Hood's grandma perspective. It goes like this....

This is just to say

When you arrive
I will not be 
lying in my bed

you hungrily
to find me

Forgive me
tell my granddaughter
better one of us 
should live. 

Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart  When you open this book, you'll read the following words in the front jacket:
"When you learn a poem by heart, it becomes a part of you. You know it in your mind, in your mouth, in your ears, in your whole body. And best of all, you know it forever." Isn't this such a clever way to start reading this book. It's so true. I've always admired authors when they can recite poems by hearts. I'm mesmerized by the rich language and the possibility of so many more poems being inside your brain. Forget Me-NOTS Poems to Learn by Heart selected by Mary Ann Hoberman is an incredible collection, a must-have. As many of you remember, Mary Ann Hoberman was named Children's Poet Laureate in 2008 and her works had made many contributions in the world of poetry. Carefully selected, each poem is a celebration of some sort. In these pages, you'll find many poetry friends and some of the best classics as well, like Love That Boy by Walter Dean Myers. 

Enjoy the journey friends...because with poetry in your hands, your journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions. So might as well put your hands up in the air....

Monday, June 11, 2012

48 Hour Book Challenge Update

Thanks to  Mother Reader book lovers from all over the place come together to celebrate a world of knowledge and adventures. It's such a wonderful escape from reality and a great dive in to the world of fantasies. So, here is another update from this amazing weekend.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral was my Saturday morning pick and boy was I happy I picked it up. First of all let me tell you how fascinated I was with the format of this book. The love story of Gloria and Frank is told through notes, pictures, you tube videos, chat conversations, Instagrams-style photographs, and letters. It's like browsing through a private journal where you don't really understand everything that is going on but you're constantly trying to put together the clues, the phrases, the pictures. It's a gigantic puzzle of love, young love, mystery, frustration and loneliness.

After losing her mother, Gloria dived into the world of music, playing the piano day and night. Her father had big plans for her: to be a sold-out performer at Carnegie Hall and worldwide. He wants her to remain focus and dedicated which she does until she meets Frank.  Frank is from Argentina, a lonely soul that dreams of going back home, and who lives in between worlds all the time. Gloria and Frank found each other, two lost and lonely souls with no particular direction and ever since they were inseparable. Were they? Some questions will remain answered but the love spiral is a fascinating one.

As some of you know, I'm from Argentina and I was happily surprised to see so many on-point references to my country, its music, wine selection, and Latin American authors. I grew up listening to music by Julio Iglesias because my parents would play his CDs on Sunday afternoons. It gave me goosebumps to see these references as it brought me back home. Another reference in this novel is about Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Could there be more romantic and heartbreaking poems like these ones? I doubted. Growing up Pablo Neruda was my favorite all-time companion.

I'm a process kind of person, one that takes most joy of doing things. I care about the final product but I ENJOY the process of putting things together. I can only imagine how creative the process  was for authors Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral to put this book together. I hope we get to see more books in this format. Let the imagination go wild!

Friday, June 8, 2012

48 Hour Book Challenge: See you at Harry's by Jo Knowles

See You at Harry's

Picture this: My blogger friends and I are supposed to meet for dinner at 4:30pm and then go to our favorite bookstore Cover to Cover for the Dark Days Tour with 4 YA authors. It's 3:45 and I'm on the last couple of chapters in See you at Harry's. For the past hour or so, I've been wiping the tears, unable to put the book down. If you predicted that I was late for dinner, you're right. But if there was a group of friends who would understand, it would be them.

This book stays with you. So be prepared. Fern, twelve-year old, feels like her family is always busy, too busy to notice her at least. Fern's siblings all seem to be in their own world; Sarah, the oldest sibling is trying to decide what to do next, in the meantime she's helping out at the family restaurant. Holden is excited about his "new friend" and trying to figure out his own place, and then there is little Charlie, the little three year old that keeps the family entertained and always laughing. But Fern's family is always on the go, her dad is constantly looking for ways to improve the family business: their restaurant. Fern's mom is always meditating. The only person in Fern's life who is a constant, who keeps calm and focused is Ran, her best friend.

However, all their lives are suddenly shaken and completely torn apart when an unexpected event lead them to deal with the unexpected. Through pain, tears, isolation, guilt and finally peace, this family finds a way to find each other again, in a completely different way.
The topics addressed in this book are not simple, the complex layers of issues that the family faces make this book a great  novel  for students 12 and up where students, learners and readers will be able to discuss more in-depth the topic of sexuality, depression, and death.

Jo Knowles weaves in all these topics with elegance, with ease so the audience can take it all in. Yet, Jo  knows how to also make it memorable so that you don't forget these characters that easily. A wonderful piece of work for sure.

48 Hour Book Challenge: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Under the Mesquite

My confession: I LOVE novels written in free verse. A lot of my English language learners tend to rotate around free verse books. Some of them find free verse"less intimidating" and I can understand that from their point of view. Free verse novels still give them a solid story line, with increasing plots, and complicating characters but it reads much faster. That's why I always keep my eyes open for free verse novels and the summer is such a great opportunity for me to get caught up with newest publication.

I was very excited to find Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. This family story about hope, family bonds, and pain. Lupita, is the oldest daughter in a family of eight siblings. Being the oldest one means having responsibilities, chores and many times just leading the rest of the sibling.  However, when the family finds out that mom has Cancer, the family finds themselves lost. Until Lupita decides she needs to stand up and support the family in the best ways she can. She struggles finding a balance as she tries to keep the faith, help her siblings, support mom and dad, and do well at school. Lupita needs a focus point so badly to help her keep going...but what will it be?

A painful story for sure but the author did find the inspiration to write this book after having gone through similar experiences. Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Mexico and moved to Texas as a child. This have helped her keeping close contact with other relatives back home.  The author has included a wonderful "Spanish Words and Cultural Reference" pages in the back of the book to help understand the words used throughout the book.

7th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book Challenge

Let the wonderful tradition begin! For the past 7 years, Mother Reader has brought us, book lovers, book fanatics a great opportunity to pause our lives and dive into the world of wild, forest, a dark city, and adventures. Please go to Mother Reader's blog and join the fun. How can anyone resist an invitation to read? Enjoy the journey.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gratitude Part III

Today I want to celebrate someone who is very special to me. She is the first person that BELIEVE in me when I was on the road to becoming a teacher. Here's the story...But first travel with me back to 1994 to Asuncion, Paraguay: a small country in South America. It was my first year in college, I was an undergrad student and my focus was on English Language Teaching. One of the classes I was taking was American Literature and our professor was Dr. Beth Pfannl. She was an amazing professor whose love for literature was contagious. We were all immersed into this world called "American Literature" Under her guidance, we were learning and reading all the classics: Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, among other writers who filled our quiet afternoons in a small city in South America.

Several months later that year, Dr. Pfannl told a couple of my friends and I about the opening of "teacher's aide"positions at the American School of Asuncion. I didn't have to think about it too much. I loved and embraced that opportunity with open arms. I left my part time job at the retail store to go and work as an aide. Little did I know at that precise moment how much that opportunity would lead me to some of the most amazing experiences in my life. 

I worked as a teacher's aide while I was going to college at night. This position lead me to work with different American teachers, and in different grade levels. All these years, I was under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Pfannl. She watched me grow and learn what it takes to become an educator. She would send us to amazing educator's convention and conferences because she believed in professional development and growth. She would advocate for us and encourage us to always take a step further toward our professional life. She never looked at any of us as "just teacher's aide," she was preparing us for the future, she was getting us ready to lead our own classroom one day. 

When I finished my undergraduate studies, I was promoted to Teacher's Assistant at the same school. Dr. Pfannl was my first principal, my first mentor, my first Administrator. Little did I know that when I accepted that position as an aide, I would spend the next 7 years of my life learning and growing. I attribute this experience as the number 1 factor that helped me shaped the professional mind I have today. That experience taught me that we always have room to grow, we will never achieve perfection and that it should never be the ultimate goal. This experience taught me to be an advocate for myself, and my growth as a always read and reach further understanding. 
Years later, Dr. Pfannl left the American School of Asuncion to become the Head of School  at an American School in Rome, Italy and I left Asuncion, Paraguay to lead my life as an educator in the United States of America. 

Dr. Pfannl, you touched lives in ways you didn't even know. You believed in me when all I had under my belt was my high school education. You believing in me so strongly gave me the courage to believe in myself, in my possibilities even when I didn't think I had other opportunities. Could there ever be enough "Thanks" to fill this world with gratitude for everything you've done? I doubt it...but I thought I had to start I decided it would be here. 
P.S. I don't have a picture in my computer of Dr. Pfannl because those pictures are all back home. But I do have one picture of my years as a teacher's aide. Oh life....sweet life. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Katherine Applegate Strikes Again!

Oh Katherine Applegate! I have a box, a bag, a blog post full of words for you and they all the kind ones. You are such an extraordinary writer who makes me fall in love with words over and over and over. You see, when I found out that Katherine Applegate just published a book, I knew I'd need a whole day free, a stack of flag sticky notes and time to devour and digest every empowering phrase or words she uses in her books.
When she published the book Home of The Brave a couple of years ago, I knew I had to share her work with my students because I can't keep all that beauty to myself. A piece of work like that was meant to be shared and read by many people, to get lost in the conversations that would arise with each page, each chapter. Indeed, that is exactly what happened when my Fifth Grade ESL class read Home of the Brave during Literature Circles a couple of years ago.
Home of the Brave
Years later, Katherine Applegate brought us another book. It is with excitement that I repeat the process when I get ready to read one of her books: a whole day free for reading, a stack of flag sticky notes, and time to devour and digest every word. That's what happened today when I finished reading The One and Only Ivan, her latest work.

The One and Only Ivan

The best of it all...this book didn't disappoint. The best of it all...get ready to fall in love with the characters, with their struggles, with art, with freedom, with life. Katherine Applegates delivers a wonderful fictional work inspired on some true events. This story it's about Ivan, a gorilla who only knew one life, the one he had at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His life consisted of his good friend the elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. But what makes Ivan different in more than one way is his love for art, paint and details. But life changes when Stella get sicks and with the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant.  With a loss and an arrival comes new possibilities for these animals who has never seen the world behind their cages. Art, love, compassion, friendship and freedom are all themes that this novel entails all while beautiful language and life messages are woven in between.

Here are some of the beautiful language captured (thanks to sticky flags that makes it easy to go back to them)...

"Memories are precious," Stella ads. "They help tell us who we are. Try remembering all your keepers"."p.53

"I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings." p. 63

"I've never asked for a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you're in a cage." p. 101

"I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice." p. 123

It's beautifully written and the story will win your heart. I can guarantee you that much. That's what a great book does to you! Happy Reading and Enjoy the journey!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Starting the year right...with a series on "Gratitude" Part 2

In January, I decided that I'd start a series on this blog on Gratitude....gratitude to all the people in my life who helped me shape the reader and writer that I'm. There is not just one person but a series of people in my life who left a print, a mark of some kind in me who turned the Stella I'm into a reader, writer, learner, and wonderer.

Today I'd like to talk about this wonderful person in my life: Mom. When I think of her, here's what comes to mind, my own wordle of thoughts:

unconditional love

From mom I've learned an invaluable lesson: you're never too old to learn, to pursuit your dreams, to patiently wait for the right moment, the right time. She's like my Winnie-The Pooh book of wisdom. So much innocence hides behind that person, so much love to contain her world inside.
Mom, I could have all the money in the world, travel to so many peoples, meet so many people but none of it would matter if I don't forgive, listen, observe, learn, show patience, perseverance, love, kindness and have a mind that never stops wonder. You showed me those things mom and because of it, today I...
and I am a learner.

Yet I can only hope to be, one day, at least half the woman you are mom.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Starting the year right...with a series on "Gratitude"

There are many different possible "Beginnings" for this new year's post. I could've started with...

* new year's resolution
or with
*a deep apology for not posting for such a long time ( and I could've share with you the 1,001 things that happened in between)
or by
* sharing the books I've read during Winter Break
or I could...
*tell you about my awesome vacation in Paraguay with the family.

All these are great possibilities and I might just later on spend some time writing and sharing about all those topics. A writer has choices. A writer makes decisions every day. I repeat these messages over and over to my young ELLs writers during Writing Workshop everyday. However, today I make the decision of starting my 2012 blog with a post on gratitude. You see, there are many people out there that have helped me become a better person, a better teacher, a better writers, a better ME. I'm constantly working on improving myself, reflecting and implementing changes. However, there is no way I can do any of those things if certain people in my life has not shape me into the person I am today.

Today I am a learner. I love learning new things. I have many interest. I have fascination in a lot of topics. Big and small. The world is a big playground of knowledge and I love playing it in.

Today I am a reader. But you see, I didn't use to be one. I couldn't call my self a reader as a child. I didn't have a passion for books until....I was a teacher's aide in Paraguay (when I was 18). More on this story later.

Today I am a writer. I started learning English as a Second Language when I was 10. I didn't have anyone I could practice English with so I started a Language Journal where I had conversations with my child self so I could practice some English. Little did I know then that ever since language and writing would become a passion in my life.

Today I'm curious. I always wonder about things. I love to ask questions. On any given day, I have hundreds of "I wonders"in my head. There are times I wish I could play pause in this brain but it is part of who I am.

Today I'm in love with my mother tongue. I love Spanish and I have a different kind of appreciation for the words, the sounds, the poems, the writers in my culture.

But none of these could've happened without the support, encouragement, and love of many, many people in my life...some of them here in the USA, some of them in Paraguay, some who I met 10 years ago, others who I've met 3 years ago. Some whom I have share many dinners with, others who I've only had the privilege to share a small moment in life.

So the first person I want to dedicate this series on gratitude on my blog is a man I admire so much: my dad, my papa.

You see, my dad is a wise man. He is the main reason my mind is a curious mind. I have learned from my dad the art of asking questions, fetching information, pondering, and projecting. At a very young age, I helped my dad build our house in Paraguay. We would sit together at the dinning table planning our next move, talking about budgets, projecting and predicting. My dad and I built our house. Yes, we did. It is one of the most satisfying thing we've accomplished in life. I remember being 18 years old and discussing the architectural planning. My dad never made it to college but he carries more wisdom than any other people I know. Why? Because he has a curious mind that gets only satisfied with books, article, by listening to debates, and most importantly, by listening to the people around him. He was a restaurant owner for 25 years and he loves people. He loves listening to people vent, talk, debate. I guess he just loves words so much he always had the perfect ones at the right time.
My dear dad, the one who's getting old but wiser each day....the one whose memory fails him at times, the one who re-reads the same book over and over because he wants to absorb the words with each reading...the one who loves to sit under the palm tree in our house and watch the sunset settle down in our neighborhood.

to you my endless love and gratitude. Today and always.

Thanks for raising a curious mind in me. Thanks to you, today I wonder...I learn.